Jesus Bears the Iniquity of Our False Witness

Today’s Reading: Leviticus 5-7

Leviticus 5:1 says, “If anyone sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify, and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity.”

“A public adjuration to testify” is one word in the Hebrew, alah. Basically, it means to swear or take an oath with punishment for swearing falsely. Leviticus 5:1 says that it is a sin to be put under an oath to testify and not speak even though you are a witness and know the truth.

The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament common in Jesus’ day, says, “And if someone sins and hears a swearing of an oath, and this witness either has seen or is aware of it, if he does not speak out, he will incur guilt.”

In this verse, the Greek word for oath is horkismos, which basically means an oath taking. So, “swearing of an oath” is to call someone to take an oath or put someone under an oath to testify.

What’s so interesting about this is that there is only one place in the New Testament where someone is literally put under an oath.

JESUS IS PUT UNDER AN OATH

In Matthew 26:57-68, Jesus is seized and brought before Caiaphas the high priest for a trial. The scribes and elders were also gathered. Importantly, Matthew says that Peter was following at a distance and went inside to sit with the guards to see what would happen to Jesus.

The chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus so they could put him to death. But, they couldn’t find any false testimony against Jesus even though many false witnesses came before them. The chief priests and council were looking for a specific “false” testimony – that Jesus claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God.

At last, two witnesses came forward, since it takes two witnesses to corroborate a matter, and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.'” The high priest stood up and asked Jesus if he had an answer to this charge, “but Jesus remained silent.”

Because Jesus wouldn’t answer, in Matthew 26:63, the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” The Greek word for adjure is exorkizo. It comes from the same root word, orkos, as horkismos. Orkos means an oath. Exorkizo means to put under an oath. This is the only time in the New Testament that exorkizo is used. Jesus is the only one to be put under an oath. Jesus is the only that the law of Leviticus 5:1 is applied to.

Jesus was his own witness to everything that had happened. Jesus stated this in John 8:14, 17-18, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going…In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent bears witness about me.” Therefore, in order to be sinless, Jesus now needed to speak and the answer the chief priest’s question.

Jesus said to him, “You have said so.” The same incident is recorded in Mark 14. In verse 62, Jesus answered, “I am.” Jesus answered with the name of God given to Moses, the man who brought the law that the Jews revered, at the burning bush. In Luke 22:70, Jesus answered, “You say that I am.” Not only did Jesus say “I am”, declaring himself to be God, but Jesus said that even the priests and the whole council called him “I am”.

In Matthew 26:65, the high priest said, “He has uttered blasphemy.” So, the whole council declared that “he deserves death.” Even though he was a put under an oath, was a witness, and testified to the truth, Jesus was put to death. Therefore, Jesus bore the iniquity of one (all of us actually) who sinned in the matter where he did not.

PETER TAKES AN OATH

Earlier in Matthew 26, just before Jesus is arrested, he tells the disciples, “You will all fall away because of me this night.” But, Peter says, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus then tells Peter that he will indeed deny him three times. Peter, and all the disciples, responded, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.”

After his adamant declaration that he would never deny Jesus, Peter saw Jesus put under an oath, testify to the truth, and wrongfully given the punishment of death. Recall, that earlier Peter had correctly proclaimed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Peter had witnessed and acknowledged the truth. According to Leviticus 5:1, Peter had come to see and know the matter.

However, in Matthew’s gospel, the very next incident after Jesus is put under an oath and given the penalty of death despite his true witness is Peter’s denial of Jesus. Matthew is purposefully contrasting Jesus being put under an oath and Peter taking an oath unto himself. Jesus was a witness and gives true testimony. Peter was a witness and refuses to speak.

Peter’s denial of Jesus is recorded in Matthew 26:69-75. A servant girl comes up to Peter and accuses him of being with Jesus. In response to this first accusation, Peter simply denies the charge. Matthew 26:70 says, “But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you mean.'”

A second servant girl comes up to Peter, and she too accuses him of being with Jesus. But, this time Peter doesn’t just simply deny the charge. Matthew 26:72 says, “And again he denied it with an oath: ‘I do not know the man.'” Oath here is the Greek word horkos. Unlike Jesus, who was put under an oath, Peter took the oath upon himself. Peter escalated the matter by taking an oath.

After some time, the bystanders come up to Peter and accuse him of being with Jesus based on his accent. Matthew 26:74 says, “Then he [Peter] began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man.'” Peter has gone from an oath to invoking a curse on himself. This is fascinating because the Hebrew word for oath, alah, also means to utter a curse, to put a curse on someone. Peter had escalated the matter again.

Peter was given three chances and refused to speak even though he had seen Jesus as the Christ and come to know the matter. It was at this moment that Peter heard the rooster crow. Matthew 26:75 says, “And he went out and wept bitterly.” Peter recognized his guilt. And, according to Leviticus 5, Peter needed to make an offering to cleanse himself from this sin.

But, that’s not how the story ends.

JESUS REDEEMS PETER

Instead of Peter giving an offering as compensation for the sin he committed, Jesus redeems Peter. We read the account of this in John 21:15-19.

Peter denied Jesus three times. So, three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. The first two times Jesus asks Peter if he agapao’s Jesus. That is, does Peter love Jesus like the Father loves Jesus and Jesus loves Peter. But, Peter says that Jesus knows he phileo’s Jesus. Peter says I love you like a brother. So, the third time Jesus meets Peter where he is. The third time Jesus asks Peter if he phileo’s Jesus. Peter can now bear witness truthfully. In John 21:17, Peter answers, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love [phileo] you.”

Peter was a witness to Jesus for three years. Yet, he did not speak up to the truth of what he heard and saw even though he took an oath to himself. Peter sinned and should have borne his iniquity. But, Jesus bore Peter’s iniquity for him. And, Jesus does the same for us. For like Peter, we have all denied Jesus and refused to speak what we have seen and come to know about him.

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